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Committee, cops union split on pick for TPD chief

A citizens panel that interviewed the three finalists to become the next Tucson police chief made a clear choice Thursday, but expressed reservations about the lack of local candidates. The police union, meanwhile, was lukewarm at best about all three potential top cops, with the least support evident for the committee's first choice.

The trio of finalists were interviewed in public for about 90 minutes each by the citizens committee, as well as behind closed doors by top brass of the Tucson Police Department, department heads from throughout City Hall, and labor representatives — including the Tucson Police Officers Association.

After the interviews, the members of the committee reported to City Manager Michael Ortega in public, with 11 of the 14 present saying they would support the appointment of Christopher Magnus as Tucson's next chief of police.

Ortega said he expects to make a choice to replace retiring TPD Chief Roberto Villaseñor sometime next week. In the meantime, he'll weigh input from the various groups that interviewed the candidates, and perhaps follow up with more questions himself.

Members of the committee nodded along and frequently smiled as Magnus, the police chief of Richmond, Calif., answered their questions.

Each of the 14 members asked one predetermined question of all the candidates, to ensure that each had the opportunity to address the issues raised by the committee. A few follow-up queries were placed, as well.

Two of the committee members voiced support for Malik Aziz, a deputy chief of the Dallas Police Department.

Garnering the least support from the public panel was Rick Gregory, a former chief in Provo, Utah, who held other law enforcement posts in Delaware and with the Florida Highway Patrol for more than two decades.

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But many on the committee voiced concern that none of the local candidates who expressed interest were included among the finalists. Three of TPD's four assistant chiefs and a police captain were reportedly among the 60 people who applied for the post.

"It's hard to imagine that a 900-person department wouldn't have a person" capable of taking on the job, said committee member Jeff Rogers, a defense attorney.

Two committee members said the current search should be scrapped and redone.

"I would like to start the process over," said one, Francisco Morales. "I don't know if any of these guys would fit in the department."

Yolanda Herrera also said she was concerned about the lack of TPD officers among the finalists, but said she would support hiring Aziz.

"We have many candidates who are more than qualified ... who would not have to hit the ground running," she said. "I would just as soon start from scratch."

"I think we are going to get a lot of push-back if Mr. Magnus is selected," she told Ortega.

That has already begun.

Although representatives of TPOA chatted amiably with the three candidates at an evening gathering, their earlier behind-the-scenes interviews didn't go well, City Hall insiders said. Meanwhile, the city's executive leadership team — the heads of the various municipal departments — were strongly in favor in Magnus being selected, sources said.

With the union citing concerns about the process, and being not-so impressed with either Aziz or Gregory, TPOA continued to lobby against appointing Magnus.

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The union has knocked the Richmond chief for his holding a protest sign at a 2014 Black Lives Matter demonstration.

Magnus publicly addressed that issue with the citizens committee.

"All lives matter... Police lives matter. Black lives matter," he said, assessing a "false narrative" that those slogans are opposed. "We need to recognize that there is a divide that we need to ... bridge."

"Officers will see that I care a great deal about what happens to them," he said.

Caroline Isaacs spoke for many on the committee when she said Gregory was "more of an administrator. His answers were very vague and polished."

The activist with the American Friends Service Committee described Aziz as "a cop's cop ... traditional, by the book."

Magnus is "engaging and approachable" and "grapples with complexity," she said.

Grady Scott, pastor of Grace Temple Baptist Church, said that while Aziz is capable, he should go to a "smaller city than Tucson for his first chief position."

"Gregory should run for office," he said, while Magnus showed "challenging new ideas."

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3 comments on this story

Oct 31, 2015, 6:13 am
-0 +1

I wonder why two out of three finalist did not know about CPARB when ask about Police oversight… Jeff, We have a long history of outstanding service from home grown City police and police Chiefs. I see that as the root of community based police policy that was adopted for Tucson.

Oct 30, 2015, 3:41 pm
-0 +1

Thanks Jeff.

While we couldn’t include comments from every member of the committee regarding every candidate (TucsonSentinel.com: We sit through six-hour meetings so you don’t have to ; ), you were one of the strongest voices in favor of Magnus when discussing your thoughts with Ortega. You said the Richmond chief “stood out head and shoulders” and that you “whole-heartedly support him.”

Oct 30, 2015, 3:18 pm
-0 +1

Let me make it abundantly clear. I support Christopher Magnus as the next police chief of Tucson. While I was surprised and disappointed that none of the local applicants made it to the final group, I’m not entirely sure any of them could have beat Magnus out of the committee’s recommendation. His interview was astonishingly good.

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Click image to enlarge

Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

Chris Magnus, right, being interviewed by the City Police Chief Appointment Advisory Committee on Thursday.

About TPD

The Tucson Police Department, with a $168 million budget, has 942 sworn officers and some 300 civilian employees.

The candidates

About 60 people expressed interest in the TPD post. That list was narrowed to 30 by consultants from the Police Executive Research Forum, then cut to 15 by City Manager Michael Ortega. Those candidates were cut to five after an internal review by representatives from the offices of the county attorney, public defender and other agencies. One candidate withdrew from consideration before names were released last week, Ortega said.

Those announced were:

Malik Aziz, deputy chief of the Dallas Police Department, where he's been on the force for 23 years. He is the chairman of the National Black Police Association.

Rick S. Gregory, vice president of the Institute for Intergovernmental Research in Tallahassee, Fla., which provides training in law enforcement and criminal justice. He served as police chief in Provo, Utah, with other law enforcement posts in Delaware and for the Florida Highway Patrol for more than two decades.

Christopher J. Magnus, chief of police in Richmond, Calif. He was previously police chief in Fargo, N.D., and on the force in Lansing, Mich. His time in Richmond was marred by a 2012 trial in which officers alleged racial discrimination, but he and the department were cleared by a jury. Magnus was knocked by the police union for his appearance at a 2014 Black Lives Matter demonstration. A former officer who was fired because of domestic violence and firearms-related violations sued Magnus earlier this year, claiming that the openly gay chief, who is married, sexually harassed him. Magnus has vigorously denied the allegations; the suit is working its way through the courts.

All of the finalists are men. Aziz was a finalist to be the next police chief in San Antonio, as was Villaseñor.

Instead, the city manger of San Antonio chose the former chief of the Texas city, rather than any of the announced finalists.

A finalist who dropped out, Larry B. Esquivel, is the chief of police of San Jose Police Department, and is set to retire from that job at beginning of next year. He's been with that department since 1984, beginning with two years as a reserve officer, but his 2.5-year tenure at the top of the department was marked with struggles with the police union over pay and benefits. Instead of pursuing the Tucson job, he will become the chief of police in Tracy, Calif., in the San Joaquin Valley, it was reported Wednesday.